Revisit the literature that set you free–or set you on fire!
They Walked in the Spirit: Personal Faith and Social Action in America
Author: Douglas M. Strong, PhD
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997
One sentence summary: Dr. Strong shows us, through historical examples, that the Holy
Spirit empowers Christians to work for God. They don’t have to choose from the false dichotomy between social activism and personal faith.
What are the main concerns being addressed?
History exposes the divide among American Christians regarding whether to take public stances on social issues. Many wondered whether they could maintain a personal faith and evangelistic zeal. Some see social justice as a diversion from the gospel, and others see it as the essence of the gospel. Some of the more socially engaged have become known as Progressive and have a reputation of being weak on Biblical teachings. Those sometimes known as Conservative (or Fundamentalist, or Evangelical) have a reputation for being rigid on doctrine, and weak or even resistant to acting on behalf of social justice.
Were these concerns clearly stated? Yes, They Walked in the Spirit shows these concerns and debates are more than 150 years old.
What are the book’s strengths and contributions?
It shows how the Holy Spirit worked through women and men of different denominations, education levels, races, classes to defy the false choice between personal piety and social action. Short biographies of eight individuals give an overview into the historical and social setting for each person. And, they provide insight into their conversion experiences and calls to ministry. We imagine hearing them in person as we sample selections of their writings and speeches. All the examples show unique ways in which God worked on people’s hearts to make differences in their communities. Instead of sacrificing their religious convictions, it was their inner convictions that led them to action. To neglect outward expression would lead to spiritual loss and to neglect inner devotion would lead to shallow and futile social action.
What were some good conscience quickening quotes from the book?
- “[T]he oppression of the wronged, the cruelty of the oppressor, the sorrows of the oppressed… in all of this, the Christian sees, more and more, of the work for God and for humanity, that needs to be done” (p. 4, William Goodell).
- “The blood of Jesus will not only purge your conscience from the guilt of sin, and from dead works, but it will destroy the very root of sin that is in the heart, by faith, so that you may serve the living God in the beauty of holiness” (p. 27, Julia A. Foote).
- “The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit… Pentecost… brings us all into one common family” (p. 47, William Seymour).
- “It is a social job, this job of the evangelist – it is a bigger thing than merely urging ‘individuals to accept Christ.’ He must be interested in raising the manner of living for the entire city” (p. 62, Charles Stelzle)
- “Religious fervor… is attended by a vicious danger of spiritual egotism, unless it leads to social action. But… social action is in the long run unmotivated and perilous unless it draws from deep wells of religious faith” (p. 74, Vida Scudder).
- “Every nation has its peculiar contribution to make to the interpretation of Christianity…Those that differ from us most will probably contribute most to our expression of Christianity” (p. 86, E. Stanley Jones).
What was so liberating about the book? It’s good to know that we don’t have to settle for oversimplified choices society (even church society) may try to force us into. Humbly recognizing how God can empower people of diverse backgrounds and denominations to bring spiritual renewal and social redemption helps us see Him more fully and be better rounded ourselves.